PhD studentship available! This blog explains more

What’s available?

A three year PhD studentship is available to undertake research on ‘Work, poverty and coercion: pauper apprenticeship in England 1563-1700’. The grant covers PhD fees and a stipend of at least £15,009 per year full-time. It is available to UK and international applicants. To qualify you must have a 2:1 or first class (or equivalent) degree in History or a closely related subject, and have or be about to obtain an MA in History at merit or distinction level. A proven interest in the early modern social or economic history of England is a strong advantage. The deadline for applications is 14 Feb 2020. For details about how to apply

This blog explains more about the PhD project and the ideas behind it.

Why study pauper apprenticeships?

That the able-bodied poor should be compelled to work was a central tenet of both England’s Elizabethan poor laws and labour laws. While schemes to set the poor to work with forms of organised industrial production proved unprofitable and difficult to coordinate, two other measures were widely enforced: pauper apprenticeships and compulsory service. Both placed young people as workers in others’ households. Young adults forced into compulsory service were paid; pauper apprentices – placed in ‘apprenticeships’ by parish officials from ages as young as 8 – were not. Viewed as a form of labour, it was a type of time-limited slavery. Those placed in pauper apprenticeships were expected to work for a particular household without pay until the ages of 21 (women) or 24 (men). Pauper apprenticeship first appeared in the late sixteenth century and remained common until the early nineteenth century.

There has never been a book length study of pauper apprenticeship and research on the topic remains limited. The most sophisticated treatment is by Steve Hindle (2004a, 2004b). He convincingly demonstrates the varied but widespread enforcement of pauper apprenticeships throughout seventeenth-century England, examining how parish officers and JPs responded to government pressure to enforce this measure. Much more remains to be done, however. Scattered local studies, (Pam Sharpe’s (1991) research on Colyton is a great model), show the value of setting the study of pauper apprenticeship in its full local context, illuminating local pressures and the circumstances of particular families. While a number of works assume close similarities between pauper apprenticeships and craft apprenticeships (e.g. Snell 1985 and Lane 1996), they were significantly different. Both required the payment of a premium to an employer up front, and both required a young person to work unpaid for a number of years. However, craft apprenticeships provided training in a specialist work skill. Pauper apprenticeships had no requirement of skills training (although skills might sometimes have acquired). On the other hand, pauper apprenticeship is rarely considered in the context of the labour laws and the paid work of servants. This is despite the fact it was the Statute of Artificers of 1563 that first created pauper apprenticeships, and the close similarity between pauper apprenticeships and service, another form of labour favoured by government legislation.

The research to be done

This will be your PhD and you will have the freedom to shape it as you wish, providing it is centred on original research about pauper apprenticeships in England in the period before 1700. What follows are some suggestions about the form this research could take. It seems likely that the enforcement of pauper apprenticeships varied considerably between regions – in the types of work pauper apprentices did, in the balance between girls and boys apprenticed, and in how it fitted into the administration of other elements of the poor laws and labour laws. One way to investigate this is to pick a number of contrasting counties (e.g. Devon, Lancashire and Norfolk), and a selection of parishes with good records from within each county. This would enable both regional difference and contrasts within regions to be studied, achieving a good geographical spread but retaining the advantages of a detailed local study. Key concerns of the research could be:

• How were the laws actually enforced (using parish records and quarter sessions records)?
• What types of young people placed in pauper apprenticeships (gender, age, family circumstances)?
• How did apprentices, their families and their employers regard pauper apprenticeships?
• How did pauper apprenticeship differ from craft apprenticeship and service in that region?
• How were the poor laws and labour laws related to each other?

How this fits with the larger project

This PhD studentship is part of European Research Council advanced grant held by Professor Jane Whittle examining ‘Forms of Labour: Gender, Freedom and Experience of Work in the Preindustrial Economy’, which runs for 5 years from 2019-2024. The project has three strands, one looking at the experience of work; one on women’s work; and one examining issues relating to work and freedom. There will be three post-doctoral researchers also employed on the project from September 2020, so you will be part of a lively team that meets every week to discuss research issues. This PhD studentship is an important part of the strand examining work and freedom. This strand questions the assumption that all labour in the English economy was ‘free’ and determined largely by market forces after the end of serfdom in the fifteenth century. Other elements of this strand include analysis of the enforcement of the labour laws, and re-examining the range of forms of labour (e.g. service, day labouring, family labour) in the economy and the balance between them. The PhD studentship will also contribute to the other strands, and be able to borrow data and discussions from them.


Steve Hindle, On the Parish? The Micro-Politics of Poor Relief in Rural England c.1550-1750 (Oxford, 2004), pp.191-226.
Steve Hindle, ‘ “Waste” children? Pauper apprenticeship under the Elizabethan poor laws, c.1598-1697’ in P. Lane, N. Raven and K.D.M. Snell ed. Women, Work and Wages in England, 1600-1850 (Boydell & Brewer, 2004), pp.15-46.
Joan Lane, Apprenticeship in England: 1600-1914 (London, 1996)
Pamela Sharpe, ‘Poor children as apprentices in Colyton, 1598-1830’ Continuity and Change 6:2 (1991), pp.253-70.
K. D. M. Snell, Annals of the Labouring Poor (Cambridge, 1985), pp.278-96.


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